Exploring new places is exciting to me. My soon-to-be husband, Larry, shares the same passion. When we decided to plan this roadtrip, Larry and I were only dating at the time. We chose Beaufort because of its rich African culture and its coastal appeal.
Little did we know we’d fall in love with this charming little city, which is now at the top of our list of possible retirement places. We want to live in a place where we feel safe to walk around in our neighborhood. We plan to live in a place where a leisure bicycle ride can get us to a local restaurant or park; and where we can buy from
Quaint. Subtle. Historic. Southern charm. These are the words I use to describe my first visit to Beaufort and the Sea Islands.
We dream of spending our retirement years watching breath-taking sunsets along the coast and inviting friends to visit during lazy summers. This small South Carolina town of Beaufort offers us that and so much more.
I selected a quaint and historic bed ‘n’ breakfast called the Beaufort Inn for our stay. I was delighted to discover the Inn is located smack-dab in the middle of a historic district and it’s within walking distance to downtown shops, nestled by the coastal waterways and a small park where the Gullah Festival is held every year.
We didn’t realize that road trip to Beaufort, would give us the opportunity to experience a piece of American history until we arrived. The moment we walked inside the Beaufort Inn we were immersed in an atmosphere that blends modern amenities with old world charm. Our suite welcomed us with heart pine floors, a fireplace and a claw-foot
soaking tub. On the grounds, we walked through immaculate gardens, a courtyard and sat on the verandah for breakfast as we decided what we would explore that day.
A Perfect Place for Families and Couples
Exploring sites on our own is our preferred style of travel. For two first-timers, getting around Beaufort was a breeze. With suggestions from locals and a tourist map we found several historic sites within walking distance. Other historic places we found on the nearby St. Helena Island which is rich with African American culture and historic buildings you can tour with a guide or on your own. We met a man who has lived on the island all of his life. He gave us a private tour in his pickup truck for about $50. It was worth every penny. His personal stories of the history, culture and customs on St. Helena Island and historic monuments and places he took us to made our
visit extra special and even more memorable than any crowded group tour. He told us that much of the land owned by black families has been preserved and passed down by generations. That simply amazed Larry and me.
One of the places our docent guide took us to was the house where the movie Forrest Gump was filmed. He reminded us of one of the scenes filmed at the house that helped us remember it perfectly; another memorable moment for Larry and me. We love movies. Yet, I had never been to a real life location where a famous movie was made in South Carolina. The private tour with the docent gave us a deeper sense of our heritage and southern roots that were much richer than any history book could explain.
Carriage rides and other tours offered in Beaufort offer more glimpses of the city’s history in film making with other movies such as The Big Chill, The Princes of Tides, The Jungle Book, The Great Santini and the Forces of Nature. Gullah Geechee Heritage Larry and I returned to Beaufort a year later. On our first trip, we were educated about the rich history of the Gullah and Gee Chee culture and their African heritage. We simply felt a connection to our history and wanted to return to explore more for ourselves.
To our surprise and delight the annual Memorial Day celebration, known as The Original Gullah Festival, is a long-standing, highly popular family tradition. The Beaufort festival draws hundreds of visitors. We saw busloads of older Americans and black families visiting to celebrate the Gullah Geechee and African American heritage.
South Carolina tourism officials describe The Original Gullah Festival as a celebration and recognition of the history, customs, cultures, language and accomplishment of African Americans of the Low country. This cultural heritage event is marked by authentic arts, crafts, exhibits in the Black Inventions Museum, Gullah presentations, music, workshops, dance and regional cuisine.
My advice. If you plan to attend the festival, make your hotel reservations a few months in advance so you can stay at the Beaufort Inn or another quaint location near the main event, shopping, attractions and restaurants.
Written by: Lanii Thomas